ISTANBUL – When Turkish investigators entered the alleged murder scene inside the Saudi consulate, they were met by the tell-tale aroma of industrial-strength cleanser and fresh paint. However, they were not surprised, having been alerted by Turkish security services that the Saudis had sent an expert team inside to conceal as best as possible their likely crime of two weeks earlier.
The notion that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi had himself relayed to the world via his Apple Watch evidence of his own torture, killing and dismemberment was quickly replaced by a more compelling story line.
Turkish intelligence services – through embedded devices that had evaded detection – had captured audio and, one well-informed source insists, also video files of the Khashoggi killing. Even more significant, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was deciding personally, through close advisers, what details to release to the world and at what moment.
The most dramatic fruit of President Erdogan's efforts came late Friday, when the Saudi government said it had fired five senior officials and arrested 18 other Saudis as a result of the investigation that the Turkish leader forced to happen. It was a dramatic turnabout from initial Saudi insistence that Khashoggi had left the consulate unharmed, while still protecting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman through the narrative of a fistfight gone wrong.